Hisham Matar, Libyan novelist speaking at Prairie Lights Bookshop Iowa City.
The plumbers have just departed from my room in Iowa House Hotel, after working on a troublesome toilet that sprays water where and when it should not. This morning I wrote three new poems – first drafts – and like the plumbers, I have left the job to return later. Last night I went to hear Hisham Matar read his work and answer questions at a bookshop event.
What do these things have in common? It may not be apparent, but we are, all four of us, at work. The plumbers never attract an admiring audience with philosophical questions and the occasional boring long-winded aside that is really a lecture in disguise. Lucky for them.
However, they are as necessary and never more so than when water threatens to flood the rooms where we live – and write. Is a writer not also a form of plumber, a trades person using his or her tools to clear the drains of civilisation and keep it working with some sanity and dignity – if not sanitation?
Those drafts we have to clear of their blockages and…well, why stretch a bad simile just to say that the reverence sometimes given to writers by their assembled admirers is – as Hisham pointed out – a long way from anything to do with the actual writing of books?
Talking about writing – as he made clear from attempting to discuss his practice – is not writing. You have to go to the page and find out for yourself. I’ve done my share of star-gazing, thinking if I just touched the hem of this garment, some writerly pixie dust would sprinkle on me in the presence of a famous practitioner.
But it is as he said: art comes from one’s own imagination in solitude, which is what I returned to again this morning. Thank you.
sometimes they arrrive
covered in blood
mostly of course
Māori New Testament and Psalms with pounamu taonga (jade pendant).